Boutique hotels focus on design, intimacy, individuality, and offering extra-personal service. They have fewer than 100 rooms, so they tend to be smaller than regular hotels.
The intimate experiences are at the heart of what boutique hotels offer – some even have a theme.
Here are the main types of boutique hotels:
Historic boutique hotels are great if you like somewhere with a story.
Places like Alila Fort Bishangarh in India, an old fortress, and the five-star Pulitzer Amsterdam, which comprises 25 interlinked canal houses dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, offer charm and history all in one.
Boutique hotels set in the great outdoors and surrounded by nature make for revitalizing getaways, especially if you're staying somewhere like Bambu Indah in Bali, where eleven suites that were once antique Javanese bridal homes await you.
You can find modern boutique hotels, too, such as the i-SUITE hotel, which sits along the Rimini Riviera.
Modern boutique hotels are designed with a contemporary aesthetic in mind, together with up-to-date facilities and amenities.
Private villas built and designed around a seashell, a turtle, and a teepee? For people after something a little more extraordinary, themed boutique hotels provide all the trimmings you'd expect but with an extra dose of uniqueness on the side.
A destination like Hostal Las Olas guesthouse is a great example with its ten distinctly-decorated villas.
Boutique hotels are smaller, but it doesn't mean they're less luxurious.
In fact, boutique hotels can be just as luxurious as standard chain hotels but without the hefty price tag (except for the high-end ones).
For example, the Madrona, a 24-room hotel in California's Wine Country, proves that amazing things can come in small packages - especially when they're exquisite mansions with stunning views and a Michelin-star chef plus a dazzling art collection too.
For some more examples of boutique hotels that are noteworthy, keep reading!
The story of the boutique hotel started in the 1980s when Studio 54 cofounders Ian Schrager and Steven Rubell opened Morgans Hotel in 1984. It was situated on New York’s Madison Avenue and was said to be the world’s first boutique hotel.
Unlike many of the other standard chain hotels at the time, which tended to be impersonal and often unoriginal, Morgans was a breath of fresh air with its distinctive décor and impeccable service.
Another location that also claims the title of being the world's first boutique hotel is Blakes Hotel London.
Blakes opened in 1978 courtesy of Anouska Hempel, an actress who turned her hand to interior design and is now considered a well-known hotelier.
Morgans Hotel is head-to-head with Blakes Hotel London for the title of 'world's first boutique hotel' despite Morgans opening six years later than Blakes. However, both hoteliers are frequently credited for creating the boutique hotel concept.
Sadly, Morgans closed in 2018, but it left a legacy in its place, and other hoteliers started to recognize the vital place boutique hotels held in the hospitality industry.
In 1987, a few years after Morgans opened, Chip Conley, a hospitality entrepreneur, opened the Phoenix Hotel under his business, Joie de Vivre Hospitality. Today, it's operated by Bunkhouse group, which has a portfolio of hospitality projects in Texas and beyond.
In 2013, Chip became Airbnb’s global head of hospitality and strategy, sharing his expertise and making it the world-famous, super-successful brand it is today.
During the 1990s, the boutique hotel movement gathered momentum, and a number of locations opened, including Claus Sendlinger’s Design Hotels, which now represents a network of independently-owned, design-led hotels in over 40 countries.
Ian Schrager also opened the Delano, his first hotel outside New York City, in Miami’s South Beach.
The '90s also saw American businessman André Balazs start his hospitality career with a bang by buying LA's now-legendary Chateau Marmont. And in 1998, he purchased and remodeled a retirement home that became the first Standard Hotel on LA's Sunset Strip.
Continuing into the late 1990s, a new cohort of boutique innovators emerged; real-estate developer Brad Korzen and interior designer Kelly Wearstler opened Avalon Beverly Hills in LA, the first W hotel launched in New York City courtesy of Barry Sternlicht, and the first Ace Hotel in Seattle opened thanks to Alex Calderwood, Wade Weigel, and Doug Herrick.
After the turn of the century, another Ace Hotel opened in Portland in 2007, W hotel opened a location in Turkey's Istanbul in 2008, and the first EDITION hotel opened in Hawaii in 2012 after Ian Schrager collaborated with Marriott International.
It was safe to say that the boutique hotel concept was in full swing, and by 2021, there were 4,600 boutique hotels in the US alone.
However, boutique hotels can be found internationally in popular cities and pleasantly surprising remote locations.
Named after J.P. Morgan's Morgan Library and Museum nearby, Morgans Hotel was opened by Studio 54 cofounders Ian Shrager and the late Steve Rubell in 1984 and designed by French interior designer Andrée Putman.
The hotel's 114 guest rooms showed "a rather free interpretation of Spanish Renaissance decoration" and veered away from standard chain hotels' somewhat go-to functional design.
Morgans's most prominent design features included an oversized, two-story, balconied "living room" lobby with textured taupe glass walls.
The floors were created in three different shades of imported Italian granite with different finishes, and to emphasize the homely feel of the place, candles were lit every night.
In addition, black-and-white checked throws were draped over the French club chairs.
The duplex penthouse suite on Morgan's 19th floor had its own greenhouse, kitchen, multimedia room, curved staircase, and two terraces that boasted stunning city views.
Unfortunately, Morgans closed in 2018 and is now said to be facing renovation into high-end micro apartments.
Built in 1828 by Célestin-Joseph Happe, Paris' L'Hotel was the last home of writer Oscar Wilde before his death in 1900.
It went under extensive refurbishment in 1967 and subsequently became the place to be by the likes of Salvador Dali, Princess Grace, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Jim Morrison, and Serge Gainsbourg, to name just a few.
When it comes to the design of L'Hotel, Paris, you can expect rich fabrics, deep luscious colors, and textured wallpaper that combine to create rooms that each have a theme of their own, all inspired by the past of Paris and France.
Today, with only 20 rooms, L'Hotel is one of the smallest 5-star hotels in Paris and is loved worldwide for its tasteful yet glamorous charm.
Also vying for the coveted title of 'first boutique hotel' is Blakes Hotel London, which opened in 1978.
Conceived by former actress-turned-famous-hotelier-and-interior-designer Anouska Hempel at a time when hotels of this sort didn't exist, Blakes took the definition of 'hotel' and gave it a super-luxury spin.
Small, exclusive, and ideally located in London's Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Blakes' theatrical-yet-luxury interior styling, along with its well-known namesake restaurant that serves a fusion of Hempel's favorite Japanese and Italian cuisines, makes it the ultimate destination when visiting London.
Each room is fully furnished with period furniture that Anouska collected on her travels and pertains to the country theme of that room; think India, China, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Egypt, and Italy.
Filled with artifacts and art, the rooms were decorated to feel exceptional.
Blakes is also adored by the celebrity crowd; famous regulars include Kate Moss, Victoria Beckham, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lady Gaga, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Lenny Kravitz.
If you check out the Oxford dictionary, you'll see that the definition of 'boutique hotel' is a small stylish hotel, typically one situated in a fashionable urban location."
Also, one of the meanings of 'boutique' is a small, sophisticated, or fashionable business or establishment.
Wanting to be close to the hottest cultural spots, you'll tend to find boutique hotels in trendy city locations.
This offers guests the convenience of exploring the area and easy access to the city center. Unfortunately, regular hotels aren't always in such fashionable settings.
In 2020, the average number of hotel rooms according to chain type was around 316, whereas boutique hotels typically contain between 10-100 rooms, with 150 maximum.
Due to their smaller size and fewer bedrooms, boutique hotels can be more flexible in their design approach and offer a more intimate experience for guests.
Because boutique hotels want to present guests with exceptional experiences, they need to pay more attention to standards.
This means that attention to quality in boutique hotels is unmatched. Regarding the facilities, amenities, food, and service, guests are in for a real treat.
Many boutique hotels are run independently, so there's flexibility in how the locations can be built, decorated, and designed – more flexibility leads to more expression of unique character.
When staying in a boutique hotel, it wouldn't be unusual to see each bedroom decorated differently from the others – but this isn't often the case in standard chain hotels, where the emphasis is on portraying a more uniform, consistent aesthetic.
You'd be hard-pressed to find two boutique hotels with similar exterior and interior designs.
Smaller premises and fewer rooms mean boutique hotels can offer guests a more personalized service, even some bespoke conveniences.
Going above and beyond for guests during their stay is at the heart of a boutique hotel's core values.
As the typical number of guests in a boutique hotel is less than in a standard hotel, it's common to have more privacy.
Instead of constantly bumping into other guests or queuing and hoarding in the communal areas, there's a more discreet vibe.
When you walk into the guest room of a boutique hotel, the first thing you’ll become aware of is exquisite attention to detail, style in every corner, and heaps of personality.
And this isn’t just in exceptional locations; in general, all boutique hotels offer this experience – and this can often be where standard chain hotels fall short in comparison.
Even the structures of boutique hotels make more of a statement when compared to more traditional hotel buildings.
Starting with room layout: it’s usually unexpected and not your typical TV-in-front-of-a-bed set-up you’ll frequently find in a standard chain hotel. Extra care has been taken to make rooms feel more like a home instead of somewhere to simply sleep and shower.
Uniquely-crafted furniture to relax in, intriguing art on the walls, quirky lighting, unusual architectural choices, the latest technological conveniences (or none if your chosen boutique hotel really wants you to switch off), and handpicked amenities
These are just some of the things you’d find in a boutique hotel room, as well as other individual features, such as engraved ceilings, antique fittings, and utterly distinctive interior décor.
The color palette might be bold and contemporary (similar to Salut Maroc! and its multicolored spaces), chic, minimal, and muted (just like Kirini Santorini’s curvy, white-washed walls), or rustic and earthy (we adore the raw, stone walls, wooden beams, and in-room fireplaces at Monaci Delle Terre Nere). And as for the trimmings, they’ll either match or tastefully clash – fabrics, accessories, and even artifacts.
Everything in a guest room is carefully considered, from decoration to furniture placement. It isn’t uncommon to find that each room in a boutique hotel has its own design theme or concept.
Sometimes, different designers are chosen to work on rooms within the same hotel, so each one has an individual feel.
Outside the rooms, cozy, intimate indoor or outdoor spaces where guests can relax await. Whether you like to dwell in acres of land, chic pool areas and farms, or mood-lit lounges and Michelin-star restaurants, boutique hotels cater to every taste.
A great example of a modern boutique hotel is LA's Silver Lake Pool & Inn.
Inside its concrete and sand-colored tile exterior sit 54 spacious rooms and suites where guests can enjoy locally-sourced art, vintage furniture, super-modern light fixtures, walk-in rain showers, a rooftop terrace, and Diptyque bathroom goodies.
And if that’s not enough, you can spend your downtime reading in the hotel’s many quiet nooks or stroll around Silver Lake’s very trendy neighborhood enjoying cool cafes and even cooler bars and music venues.
We've all seen movies where the main characters stay in questionable-looking motels: dowdy furniture, seemingly itchy bed linens, creepy fluorescent lighting, and everything just looks a little unclean – it's fair to say we haven't been given the prettiest portrayal of this American icon.
Fortunately, many motels had quite the makeover, and you can now stay at cool and stylish boutique options that have been injected with some serious design charisma but with a more purse-friendly price tag.
Case in point? There are the teepees at the Wigwam, vintage airstreams at Kate's Lazy Desert, and mesmerizingly designed theme rooms at the Roxbury Motel.
The word 'motel' combines the words' motor' and 'hotel' and comes from the usual placement of these venues near long stretches of motorway to offer travelers some respite when embarking on long trips.
In comparison, boutique hotels tend to be in more urban, trendy city areas and close to the best cultural spots.
Overall, boutique motels tend to be smaller in terms of premises and especially room size.
Though many are petite, boutique hotels can be more spacious, especially in communal areas, such as restaurants, lounges, or sunbathing terraces.
To experience what boutique motels offer, why not book one for your next trip? Here are five that particularly tickle our fancy; click through to discover more information about each spot, along with photos that will give you an immediate travel bug.
Among the US's lush Catskill Mountains, The Roxbury awaits with its bespoke-theme rooms, suites, and cottages.
If you've ever wondered what it would be like if Alice in Wonderland married Willy Wonka and lived in Oz, you may like what The Roxbury offers – not to mention the amazing spa.
Hicksville Trailer Palace is the ultimate adult playground for those who love the outdoors.
The location's one-of-a-kind trailers are suited to give you a truly unique stay, all set in Joshua Tree's picturesque desert landscapes.
If you're seeking a motel experience with a twist, the Wigwam motel has 19 teepees ready to give you just that.
Not only is the Wigwam motel located on the famous Route 66, but it's also one of the few motels on this iconic road to have a pool.
The eccentric Madonna Inn was built along the world-famous Californian Highway number 1, and it has 110 themed guest rooms that will blow your mind.
Comprising a famous bakery, spa, beach-entry pool, and 2,200 acres on which you can explore many activities, the Madonna Inn is perched on a hillside terrace right under the Californian sun – need we say more?
Fancy camping in the desert but prefer something other than a tent and sleeping bags?
Don't worry because the vintage airstreams at Kate's Lazy Desert will provide stylish comfort in the High Desert, only six miles away from Joshua Tree National Park.
From the USA and Switzerland to North Africa and Mexico, these picks will make you reach for your suitcase instantly.
With the Swiss mountains as your backdrop, Backstage Hotel Zermatt makes for the perfect getaway.
Containing luxury chalets and apartments, every piece of furniture in this hotel was made by hand in the studio of artist, architect and designer, Heinz Julen.
To say that New York's Public Hotel is the epitome of stylish, exclusive-yet-attainable luxury is an understatement.
And when we say stylish, we really mean it. Every corner of the Public Hotel is fabulous, plus it has an events space called Public Arts where you can enjoy screenings, jazz concerts, and club nights – we love it!
At the foothills of the Mount Etna volcano lies bio- and eco-certified boutique hotel Monaci Delle Terre Nere.
With a farm over 16 acres, you can enjoy its produce in the on-site restaurant. And if that's not enough, maybe the panoramic views of the Mediterranean Sea from the terrace will sway you.
Situated in its own namesake's neighborhood, the Silver Lake Pool & Inn is achingly cool, just like its LA surroundings.
Chic, stylish, spacious, with only 54 guest rooms and suites – this is one exclusive joint.
It doesn't get much more vibrant and colorful than Salut Maroc!
Sitting in Essaouira's historic medina, the hotel's bold, signature style permeates throughout the premises.
Featuring only 11 rooms, it's often a race to book come summer – so get in line!
If you're familiar with the Edition hotels, you'll know that they offer unique stays in the world's top cities – Madrid's iteration being no exception.
Expect utterly beautiful décor with exquisite detail along with a superb city-center location.
With half-fish, half-object fixtures in each room to represent the open minds and versatility of Amsterdammers, Andaz Amsterdam is undoubtedly unique.
It's only steps away from the city's famous Nine Streets, the Anne Frank house, the Van Gogh Museum, and numerous bars and cafes – unmissable if you ask us.
Often seen in the top 10 European hotels in the World Travel Awards and home to a Michelin-starred restaurant, Positano's Le Sirenuse hotel is quite the dream location.
Le Sirenuse is placed so you can enjoy stunning sea views. It's no wonder this hotel is an award winner.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention Katikies Kirini Santorini in this list, and not just because of its architectural distinctiveness.
Imagine white-washed walls, curved edges, and spectacular Aegean Sea views, and you're only touching the surface of how wonderful this hotel is.
An 1881 mansion was given new life courtesy of interior designer Jay Jeffers.
The Madrona is now a 24-room boutique hotel that boasts magnificent views of the Dry Creek Valley, a breathtaking spot in California's Wine Country.
Photo by Matthew Millman
There are eight acres of green land to enjoy, and Michelin-star chef Jesse Mallgren helms the restaurant.
Photo by Matthew Millman
If you feel like being immersed in nature for your next trip, Tulum's AZULIK should go to the top of your list.
Along with surreal architecture and restaurants that look like birds' nests (in the coolest way possible, of course), you can also take part in daily yoga classes, meditation, and private energy coaching for the ultimate soul break.
For more unique and unusual hotel picks, pick your accommodation type and get searching. Happy travels!